Cynthia Connolly has been a fixture in the DC punk rock scene since its voice started echoing out of the Capital. The independent stalwarts of Dischord in DC, K Records, and Killrockstars in Olympia, WA are among her friends and her photo subjects: She takes pictures and makes postcards — one series of which was of many of these musicians and their cars.
Cynthia’s photos have traveled the country, appearing in galleries and punk rock venues alike. She, Leslie Clague and Sharon Cheslow compiled the classic Banned in DC, a book of 450 photos documenting the DC punk scene from 1979-1985.
Whether she’s shooting indie rock musicians and their cars, ice machines, landscapes, or just random, weird typography, her photos always capture a subtle touch of soul.
Roy Christopher: Photography is a difficult realm in which to standout, but you’ve managed to do so. Do you think about this when choosing the subjects for your various series of photos, or do you just shoot what you find aesthetically pleasing?
Cynthia Connolly: I choose to take photos that I find aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes when there are prints, I then choose objects or colors that go together. So, I guess i do further editing. I try not to look at other photography too much, and I try to make my mind as clear as possible so that I’m truly taking photos of what I like for whatever reason.. and not for any other reason. Well, there can be other reasons. It all has to have a good sort of reason. Like, a friend likes that thing, so I took a photo of it or something like that. Basically, if something gives me a bad vibe, or person, they are not in the photos. I think that comes through.
RC: Having been a part of the underground DC scene (as well as the DC/Olympia axis) since its inception, your lens has had a unique vantage point. What kind of perspective has your connection to this vibrant underground given you and your photos?
CC: I’m really not sure since I’m in the middle of what I am doing and it’s hard for me to step outside of it. I think my landscape photos are completely separate from the music scene. I mean, these are things I’ve wanted to do since I moved to DC. Wait, I guess then there is something there. If I had stayed in LA all my life I might not be as interested in wide open spaces. But I moved east in 81 and I saw what more confined spaces are like out here and I always have a yearning for the wide open space. So, I take photos of it. I also like the bright white light that the west seems to provide. I think it’s the white light and dry soil that makes it. I’ve seen that white light here out east but the objects it bounces off of makes it different, I think. I’m not sure on this yet. I’m just figuring it out. So, I guess there is that perspective. If I didn’t move east, then maybe I would be shooting other types of photos?
RC: Has shooting photos always been one of your main interests?
CC: Art is. Photography just so happens to be what I got into.. I really love good art.. paintings, drawings.. whatever. I used to paint, but photography I liked as well and went with that. If I had like five lives, I would select also the “painter” option and perhaps the “clothing designer” option and perhaps the “ceramicist” option and also perhaps some kind of art business option.
RC: My friend Richard Metzger once said that the most subversive thing one can do is to become popular. In the spirit of this quote, I have often argued in defense of bands like Rage Against the Machine, stating that — in spite of the fact that they create revenue for evil companies such as Epic/Sony — they reach and influence more kids than any activist-minded indie band (and probably lead kids to those bands eventually anyway) can. What do you (as person involved with activist-minded indie bands) think of the ‘mainstream vs underground’ debate and said point of view.
CC: Well, inevitably, people have to make money to live. I think that people have to compromise for that. I believe that some people can succeed in a chain of events in their life so not support more evil and wrong doing companies and other people. It’s really a hard call… on both survival and happiness.
Now, with bands… that’s sort of a different story. It all depends on the reason why you make music. If you purely want to make music for music and you have another job.. then don’t sign to a major label. You have complete control of your art. If you want to “sell part of your soul” in order to take the risk that you will be able to communicate to a larger mass of people and you think your soul is worth it to the greater masses to hear what you have to say, then go ahead and do that. It’s just a call in your life of what and where you want to go. I’m not saying that you really are “selling your soul,” but art and pure capitalism is a fine balance and if you get too much money making in art.. then i think it become vulgar more often than not. I think basically our country and the way our lifestyle is set up, money is much more important than art and music. So, people get the pressure for the money side of it. It’s really a fine line with it all… and I think it’s very hard to suceed as an artist as a result. I think people need to be more creative and accept that success as a musician means more than paying the rent with money you’ve made at a show, which I think a lot of people have, but they have to constantly remind themselves of that. We all have to remember when you sign up to a corporation to sell your music, they are only interested in you to make money.. that’s the point of the corporation in the first place. So, you will have to sacrifice your art for the end means.
I also believe that when you find a cool artist or a cool indie band and they are not on a major label and they are doing things in a creative “smaller” way, they greatly influence people and show that this can be done. I truly believe this and it gives hope and inspiration to people who just want to start a band and play. This is where music really starts and this is something that should always be supported. I think if more poeple were aware of this and we weren’t flooded by all the garbage and advertising of corporate rock, we’d find these indie art and bands more easily and we’d be supporting more directly something that is more real. So, I’m not sure what to say now